Lex Rex [Law Is King, or The Law & The Prince] (1644)

Samuel Rutherford

Whether Monarchy Be the Best of Governments

Nothing more unwillingly do I write than one word of this question. It is a dark way; circumstances in fallen nature may make things best to be, hic et nunc, evil, though to me it is probable, that monarchy in itself, monarchy de jure, that is, lawful and limited monarchy is best, even now, in a kingdom, under the fall of sin, if other circumstances be considered.

But observe, I pray you, that Mr. Symmons and this poor Prelate, do so extol monarchy, that there is not a government save monarchy only, all other governments are deviations; and therefore Mr. Symmons says, (p. 8,) “If I should affect another government than monarchy, I should neither fear God nor the king, but associate myself with the seditious;” and so the question of monarchy is, —

    1st. Which is the choicest government in itself, or which is the choicest government in policy, and in the condition of man fallen in the state of sin?
    2nd. Which is the best government, that is, the most profitable, or the most pleasant, or the most honest? For we know that there be these three kinds of good things, — things useful and profitable, bona utilia; things pleasant, jucunda; things honest, honesta; and the question may be of every one of the three.
    3rd. The question may be, Which of these governments be most agreeable to nature? That is, either to nature in itself, as it agrees communiter to all natures of elements, birds, beasts, angels, men, to lead them, as a governor, does to their last end; or, Which government is most agreeable to men, to sinful men, to sinful men of this or that nation? For some nations are more ambitious, some more factious; some are better ruled by one, some better ruled by many, some by most and by the people.
    4th. The question may be in regard of the facility or difficulty of loving, fearing, obeying, and serving; and so it may be thought easier to love, tear, and obey one monarch than many rulers, in respect that our Lord says, it is difficult to serve two masters, and possibly more difficult to serve twenty or an hundred.
    5th. The question may be in regard of the power of commanding, or of the justice and equity of commanding; hence from this last I shall set down the first thesis.

Assert. 1. — An absolute and unlimited monarchy is not only not the best form of government, but it is the worst, and this is against our petty Prelate and all royalists. My reasons are these: —

    1st. Because it is an unlawful ordinance, and God never ordained it; and I cannot ascribe the superlative degree to anything of which I deny the positive. Absolute government in a sinful and peaceable man is a wicked government, and not a power from God, for God never gave a power to sin. Plenitude potestatis ad malum et injuriam non extenditur. Sozenus Junior (cons. 65) in causa occurrenti (l. 2). Ferdinand. Loazes in suo sons, pro March. de Velez. (p. 54, n. 65), and so that learned senator, Ferd. Vasquez (p. 1, l. 1, c. 5, n. 17).
    2nd. It was better for the state that Epiminondas could not sleep than that he could sleep, when the people were dancing, because, said he, “I wake that you may have leave to sleep and be secure;” for he was upon deep cogitations how to do good to the commonwealth when the people were upon their pleasures; because all kings, since the fall of the father, king Adam, are inclined to sin and injustice, and so had need to be guided by a law, even because they are kings, so they remain men. Omnipotency in one that can sin is a cursed power. With reason all our divines say, the state of saving grace in the second Adam, where there is non posse deficere, they cannot fall away from God, is better than the state of the first Adam, where there was posse non deficere, a power not to fall away; and that our free will is better in our country in heaven, where we cannot sin, than in the way to our country, on earth, where we have a power to sin; and so God’s people is in a better case, (Hosea 2:6-7,) “Where her power to overtake her lovers is closed up with an hedge of thorns that she cannot find her paths;” then the condition of Ephraim, of whom God says, (Hosea 4:17,) “Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone.” So cannot chat be a good government when the supreme power is in a sinful man, as inclinable to injustice by nature as any man, and more inclinable to injustice by the condition of his place than any; and yet by office he is one that can do no injustice against his subjects; he is a king, and so may destroy Uriah, kill his subjects, but cannot sin; and this is, to flattering royalists, the best government in the world. As if an unchained lion were the best governor, because unchained, to all the beasts, sheep, and lambs, and all others, which with his teeth and paws he may reach, and that by virtue of an ordinance of God.
    3rd. What is one man under no restraint, but made a god on earth, and so drunk with the grandeur of a sinning-god, here under the moon and clouds? who may hear good counsel from men of his own choosing, vet is under no restraint of law to follow it, being the supreme power absolute, high, mighty, and an impeccable god on earth. Certainly this man may more easily err, and break out in violent acts of injustice, than a number of rulers, grave, wise, under a law. One being a sinful man, shall sooner sin and turn a Nero (when he may go to hell, and lead thousands to hell with him gratis) than a multitude of sinful men, who have less power to do against law, and a tyrannous killing of innocents, and a subversion of laws, liberties, and religion, by one who may, by office, and without resistance of mortal men, do all ill, is more dangerous and hurtful than division and faction incident to aristocracy.
    4th. Caesar is great, but law and reason are greater; by an absolute monarchy all things are ruled by will and pleasure above law; then this government cannot be so good as law and reason in a government by the best, or by many.
    5th. Under absolute monarchy, a free people is, actu primo, and in themselves enslaved, because though the monarch, so absolute, should kill all, he cannot be controlled; there is no more but flight, prayers, and tears remaining; and what greater power has a tyrant? None at all, so may we say. An absolute monarch is, actu primo, a sleeping lion, and a tyrant is a waking and a devouring lion, and they differ in accidents only.
    6th. This is the papists’ way. Bellarmine (de pontif., l. 1, c. 1), and Sanderus (de visibili Monarchia, l. 3, c. 3), Turrere (in sum de Eccles. l. 2, c. 2), prove that the government of the church is by an absolute monarch and pope, because that is the best government which yet is in question. So royalists prove commonwealths must be best governed by absolute monarchs, because that is the best government; but the law says, it is contrary to nature, even though people should pact to make a king absolute: Conventio procuratoria ad dilapidandum et dissipandum juri naturali contraria nulla est, l. filius 15, de cond. Just. l. Nepos. procul 125, de verb. signif. l. 188, ubi. de jure Regni l. 85, d. tit.

Assert. 2. — Monarchy in its latitude — as heaven, and earth, and all the host therein, are citizens — is the best government absolutely, because God’s immediate government must be best; but that other governments are good or best so far as they come near to this, must prove that there is a monarchy in angels if there be a government and a monarchy amongst fishes, beasts, birds, etc.; and that, if Adam had never sinned, there should be one monarchy amongst all mankind. I profess I have no eye to see what government could be in that state, but paternal, or marital; and, by this reason, there should be one catholic emperor over all the kings of the earth; a position held by some papists and interpreters of the cannon law, which makes all the princes of the earth to be usurpers, except those who acknowledge a catholic dominion of the whole earth in the emperor, to whom they submit themselves as vassals. If kings were gods and could not sin, and just, as Solomon in the beginning of his reign, and as David, I could say, monarchy so limited must be better than aristocracy or democracy, (1.) Because it is farthest from injustice, nearest to peace and godliness. (M. l. 3, sect. aparet. ff. de administrat. tutor. l. 2, sect. novissime, ff. de orig. jur. Aristot. pol. l. 8, c. 10, Bodin. de Rep. l. 6, c. 4.) (2.) Because God ordained this government in his people. (3.) By experience it is known to be less obnoxious to change, except that some think the Venetian commonwealth best; but, with reverence, I see small difference between a king and the Duke of Venice.

Assert. 3. — Every government has something wherein it is best; monarchy is honorable and glorious-like before men; aristocracy, for counsel, is surest; democracy for liberty, and possibly for riches and gain, is best. Monarchy obtains its end with more conveniency, because the ship is easier brought to land when one sits at the helm, than when ten move the helm. We more easily fear, love, obey, and serve one than many. He can more easily execute the laws.

Assert. 4. — A limited and mixed monarchy, such as is in Scotland and England, seems to me the best government, when parliaments, with the king, have the good of all the three. This government has glory, order, unity, from a monarch; from the government of the most and wisest, it has safety of counsel, stability, strength; from the influence of the commons, it has liberty, privileges, promptitude of obedience.

Obj. 1. — There is more power, terror, and love, in one than in many.

Ans. — Not more power; terror comes from sin, and so to nature fallen in sin, in circumstances a monarchy is best.

Obj. 2. — It is more convenient to nature that one should be lord than many.

Ans. — To sinless nature, true, as in a father to many children.

Obj. 3. — Monarchy, for invention of counsels, execution, concealing of secrets, is above any other government.

Ans. — That is in some particulars, because sin has brought darkness on us; so are we all dull of invention, slow in execution, and by reason of the falseness of men, silence is needful; but this is the accidentary state of nature, and otherwise there is safety in a multitude of counselors; one commanding all, without following counsel, trusts in his own heart, and is a fool.

Obj. 4. — A monarch is above envy, because he has no equal.

Ans. — Granted; in many things a monarchy is more excellent, but that is nothing to an absolute monarchy, for which royalists contend.

Obj. 5. — In a multitude there be more fools than wise men, and a multitude of vices, and little virtue, is in many.

Ans. — Mere multitude cannot govern in either democracy or aristocracy, for then all should be rulers, and none ruled, but many eyes see more than one, — by accident one may see more than hundreds, but accidents are not rules.

Obj. 6. — Monarchy is most perfect, because most opposite to anarchy and most agreeable to nature, as is evident in plants, birds, bees.

Ans. — Government of sinless nature void of reason, as in birds and bees, is weak to conclude politic civil government amongst men in sin, and especially absolute government. A king-bee is not absolute, nor a king-eagle, if either destroy its fellows, by nature all rise and destroy their king. A king-bee does not act by counsel borrowed from fellow-bees, as a king must do, and communication of counsels lessens absoluteness of a man. I see not how a monarchy is more opposite to anarchy and confusion than other governments. A monarch, as one, is more opposite to a multitude, as many, but there is no less order in aristocracy than in monarchy; for a government essentially includes order of commanding and subjection. Now, one is not, for absoluteness, more contrary to anarchy than many; for that one now who can easily slip from a king to a tyrant, cannot have a negative voice in acts of justice, for then should he have a legal power to oppose justice, and so, for his absoluteness, he should be most contrary to order of justice; and a monarch, because absolute, should be a door-neighbor to disorder and confusion.

Obj. — But the parliament has no power to deny their voices to things just, or to cross the law of God, more than the king.

Ans. — It is true neither of them has a negative voice against law and reason, but if the monarch, by his exorbitant power, may deny justice, he may, by that same legal power, do all injustice; and so there is no absoluteness in either.

Obj. — Who should then punish and coerce the parliament in the case of exorbitance?

Ans. — Posterior parliaments.

Obj. — Posterior parliaments and people may both err.

Ans. — All is true; God must remedy that only.